The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has become one of the most dynamic events for music thrill-seekers since the festival’s opening salvo in 1999. Over the past 13 years, a phenomenal variety of acts have rocked its stages, including Beck, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Daft Punk, Nine Inch Nails, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Prince, and The Verve.
The 2012 affair took place over two weekends and featured 149 bands on five stages. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Radiohead, Bon Iver, The Shins, Squeeze, Madness, and The Black Keys turned in critically acclaimed performances. And at the center of it all, Camarillo, CA-based Rat Sound Systems once again helmed the Coachella fray, supplying audio systems and personnel—something it’s done since 1999—to pull off the massive event.
This year Rat Sound touring systems coordinator Jon Monson helped his company bring in eight 48-channel VENUE Profile Systems and two VENUE D-Show Systems to use at the five stages. Each FOH position included two VENUE systems. An additional Profile System was available to bands that needed it at the monitor position. Engineers working at the Main Stage and Outdoor Theater had a Pro Tools | HD rig at their disposal for recording their band’s sets. Rat Sound also provided a wide range of plug-ins to use, including the VENUEPack and All Access Pack bundles, as well as some of the more popular plug-ins from Waves and Crane Song.
“The Profile has the single best engineer acceptance in the market right now, which is why we used them,” Monson explains, “which means our techs don’t need to give lessons during the day. Plus, many bands sent files ahead or brought them, so all they had to do was show up with their own iLok and off they go.”
For The Shins, Virtual Soundcheck is “the greatest thing”
While Rat Sound made an impressive list of Avid gear available to all of the bands, there were a couple of bands that opted to bring in their own equipment this year. The Shins, for instance, brought in a pair of VENUE SC48 consoles for their set. According to the band’s FOH engineer, Jeremy Lemos, it made sense to do that because they’d been traveling with the boards all year. “Every day we are in a different club or theater or huge festival with no sound check, and this band is too big to have the first few songs be a mess,” he says. “With so many variables, it's really critical to have a few things stay the same.”
Beyond having the same hardware at each show, Lemos says that having the ability to perform a Virtual Soundcheck relieves some pressure during the band’s festival run. “It’s the greatest thing to happen to touring in years,” he exclaims. “I can have the band onstage anytime I need them. I get friendly with the systems guy, ask if I can turn the PA on for two minutes, and in the time it takes for three mouse clicks, I’ve set up the backline and gotten a balance based on a show that we did the night before.”
It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Coachella or doing some promo [event] in front of 50 people, the band expects it to sound exactly the same every day, and the SC48 does that for them.
JEREMY LEMOS, FOH ENGINEER, THE SHINS
Being able to refine mixes using Virtual Soundchecks is even more valuable, he adds, because “it’s how the band is really going to play come show time, after some drinks, with some adrenalin, instead of their normal sound check levels. It’s magic. I knew that every time I was able to run Virtual Soundcheck, the band was going to come out of the gates sounding great.”
That is especially true and important at the monitor position, Lemos says, where the SC48 is valued for its consistency and ability to use scenes. “The band is all on in-ear monitors, so the slightest changes are huge to them. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Coachella or doing some promo [event] in front of 50 people, the band expects it to sound exactly the same every day, and the SC48 does that for them.”
Great sound and ease benefit Radiohead
Radiohead monitor engineer Michael Prowda brought in his own VENUE Profile System rather than use the consoles Rat Sound had provided. “I’ve been using the Profile on my projects since it was introduced,” he says. “I use VENUE because I’m familiar with how it sounds and functions. Sound to this band is very important, and VENUE sounds good… no one is mentioning sound quality is an issue.”
Top-notch sound isn’t the only big benefit to Prowda—the console’s ease of use is equally as valuable to him. “As a hypothetical example,” he explains, “let's say I was able to use the best-sounding console in the universe, if it existed, but had to fumble around to figure out how to use it. This would be more noticeable to the band [than if] the mix or sound quality was bad versus getting the project up and running smoothly with confidence. So, because I’m familiar with VENUE, I am able to put a production together and get notable results. I’m actually amazed at how great it sounds.”
Moreover, being able to integrate VENUE Personal Q (PQ) Monitoring with his system enables him to remotely help each band member mix their own personal monitors that they wear. “The Edit function is invaluable,” he says. “The band understands the difference between changing something in their mix for just that one song we’re working on, or globally, which is the word we use for all snapshotted songs. [The] Edit [feature] is necessary and a welcome improvement to the original.”
Prowda and his fellow engineers were able to call on a trio of Avid technicians who were onsite at Coachella to offer assistance. “I consider the people at Avid to be friends and I like working with people I trust to be there when I need them,” Prowda says.
Monson agrees, adding, “We liked having the guys around. It was the second year of having them with us. Often I would hear about something that was needed or a question that had to get answered, and the Avid guys had it solved before I could even get to the stage to find out what was going on!”